Tommy’s Sign

(Photo prompt © Roger Bultot)

 

She was never going to be ready. There was never going to be the ‘right time.’ He tried. He really tried. But he couldn’t stand it anymore.

When she left to visit her mother, he took it downstairs. The recycling truck should pass before her return, and by then it will be done. It was for the best. She’ll come to understand.

The key in the door in the morning. “I took an earlier flight. And, can you believe it? Someone tossed a highchair just like Tommy’s! I know it is a sign from him to hold on to ours!”

 

 

For Rochelle’s Friday Fictioneers

 

 

Endless Flicker

paolo-nicolello-KY6NHtBWJB8-unsplash

Photo by Paolo Nicolello on Unsplash

 

Candle lighting

The edge

Of the world

And the margins

Of time

To the endless

Flicker

Of loss.

 

[For Kathryn: you became light eight years ago today. We all loved you. We all love you more.]

For Sammi’s Weekend Writing Prompt: Endless in 18 words

 

 

Not Just Anywhere

Photo prompt: © Ted Strutz

 

They found the photo in his wallet. No address on its back. No date.

“This could be anywhere,” Deena said.

Neal sighed. He hadn’t seen Dad for years. The reclusive elder had been an aloof parent, and while Neal had yearned for more connection, it always took so much work … with scarce actual return.

“I know where it is.” Aunt Leah fingered the yellowed photograph. “It’s the Mendelsons’ house. I always suspected he and Meir had a thing. Such secret it had to be.”

She sighed and shook her head. “Such a shame. To have to hide love this way.”

 

 

For Rochelle’s Friday Fictioneers

 

 

If Tied

gatepost CrispinaKemp

 

“If tied,” she said, “come by.”

“If not…?” he asked.

Her shake of head stilled any of the questions he had swirling inside his. It cooled his urge to argue. He knew it wouldn’t help. He knew it would only make what was already unlikely, impossible.

In the days that followed he found every reason to visit the gatepost. He wasn’t meant to come too close, but the nearby field offered cloves that his mare suddenly required, and there were numerous trips to town that merited taking exactly the dirt road that hugged parts of the property.

He drooped with every thread-less passing.

He couldn’t sleep.

He felt angry, worried, sick.

Till one day, as he rode by on an errand for a parcel, he saw it. A pink thread. Tied.

Her parents relenting.

They’d let him court her. Even though his father, in his drunkenness, had killed their son.

 

 

 

For Crispina’s Crimson’s Creative Challenge

 

 

A Key To The Heart

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

The last thing she believed was that her great-grandmother’s words had been literal.

The old woman was prone to tall tales, lore and fairies, rumors and gossip, odd potions and odder notions. There were always layers of meaning. Lessons. Some ancient moral to decipher. A hidden understanding.

As a young child, Patricia was fascinated by Gramma Gee. She would spend hours dreaming about the meaning of the words of mystery from the wizened woman who had more wrinkles than skin and whose spine bent halfway parallel to the ground.

But by the time she turned an adolescent, Patricia found the elder’s cryptic talk to be boring, dated, and annoying. She only went to visit to assuage her mother’s guilt, and even then did so without enthusiasm and for the briefest stay.

When Mom died at the end of a long illness while Gramma Gee continued living, Patricia — then a college student — stopped visiting altogether. She’d convinced herself that the old woman in the cheerless room in the old people’s home was senile and would not know the difference, but in her heart’s heart she knew that she was angry. Every day the ancient lived felt like one stolen from her mother.

Patricia wondered if her mom had felt that way after Nana died. The sudden death that bled Nana’s life into her brain had left Mom bereft and lonely. Patricia was not quite four years old at the time.

It did not seem fair. Two holes bracketed by a woman so old there could not have been a good enough reason for her to still live.

Then, on Patricia’s twenty-sixth birthday, Gramma Gee breathed her last. She’d just turned ninety-five.

She left Patricia everything: Two tattered suitcases of documents, moth-eaten blankets in a trunk that could have come out of a horror movie, a box of knickknacks, and a four-leaf clover key wrapped in a piece of leather in the shape of a heart.

“There is a key to the heart, and you can use it.”

Patricia had heard Gramma Gee say this phrase more times than she cared to remember. She’d thought it romantic at some point, then irritating.

But was it more than an expression? And if so, a key to what?

The attorney who was the executor of Gramma Gee’s meager estate was no help. A harried man with droopy spectacles and droopier hair, he had not much to tell her. “It could be in the documents,” he said, nicotine-stained fingers fidgeting for her to sign the papers on his desk and let him go handle some other oldster’s odds and ends. “I believe there’s a deed among the documents. To some house in the old country. I don’t expect it to still be standing. Most are not.”

It was mostly not.

But a section was, and part of a stair sticking out of broken walls. And the owner of the bed and breakfast nearby had a small tractor and a strong son he could lend. When they cleared away the rotten beams and tumbled stones and mounds of weeds, there was an intact part of ancient wall revealed, and more steps.

And at the end of those, a closed door. Set with a heart-shaped lock.

She had the key.

And she could use it.

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto challenge

 

Plenty Enough Of That

Cotton E.K.

Photo: E.K.

 

“I don’t know what we’ll do,” she sobbed.

He lifted her chin gently till the brown-speckled eyes met his. “We’ll manage,” he said, surety threaded carefully into his voice. He didn’t want her feeling as if she was weak for unraveling or wondering whether any of what she was feeling was excessive or unreasonable. It was not.

He didn’t have all the answers, either.

Only love.

He had plenty of that.

And it had to be enough.

“Everything’s a mess,” she sighed.

It was. And yet, it wasn’t. Not everything. Their care for each other had not a single tangle in it.

“It’s like this cotton field,” he breathed. “Raw fibers that are nonetheless brimming with nascent fabric potential. We’ll pick through our grief and weave love into a new life.”

 

 

 

For Sammi’s Weekend Writing Prompt: Fabric in 131 words

 

 

Call Home

Photo prompt: © Douglas M. MacIlroy

 

“Do you still have it?”

“Let me see,” he nodded at the screen even though he knew she couldn’t see him.

“Okay.”

The tremor in her voice told him everything: How tender she felt, how brave she was, how she couldn’t bear for him to ask directly lest it shatter what brittle control she managed to maintain.

“Got it,” he breathed. Attached. Hit ‘send.’ “Check your email.”

The line was silent. Then her voice, full of tears. “I knew it. I knew it hadn’t been a dream. She said she’d visit. From the after. Exactly this way. … And she came.”

 

 

 

For Rochelle’s Friday Fictioneers

 

The Way It Used To Be

storm SueVincent

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

There were hollows underneath the old ruins. They could be reached through the small shadowy glen that indented the hill where the remains of the stone structure stood.

Da had said that the underground spaces had likely been storerooms, but in Konnor’s mind they could just as easily have been dungeons. People had such things in castles and forts and towers. In old times.

Or perhaps still did. You never knew what could be lurking underneath someone’s residence.

He used to go to the ruins with Baldwin. It had been their favorite play space. They’d crawl through the opening in the rocks which led to a small roundish place with hand-hewed walls that still showed marks of chisels, complete with what must’ve been a doorway to other spaces but was blocked by a tumble of large stones.

They had made a plan to clear those, he and Baldwin, once when summer was long and they were bored and needing an adventure. They were soon disabused of the notion, however. Not only were the stones heavy and the tugging of them sweaty work, but the dust that fell on their heads from the ceiling made them realize that the whole thing could come down and leave them buried.

They weren’t ready to be buried. Not when ghosts and goblins waited to grab any who stepped into Death’s domain.

So they left the rockfall alone and found that their imaginations managed to terrify each other well enough without actually discovering what hid underneath and behind the areas into which they had no ingress.

Then Baldwin got sick, and when the fever subsided his legs did not work anymore and one of his arms was weak and he became morose and pale and could no longer come play in the ruins. When Konnor came to visit him, Baldwin reclined in his bed and frowned and said that dungeon stories were stupid and for babies.

Konnor stopped mentioning their games. He visited less and less until he only went when his mother made him. Baldwin was too angry and there was nothing Konnor could do right and he felt awkward and worried and sad.

His feet still took him to the ruins — they knew the way so well — but it wasn’t the same without Baldwin. The place felt spookier. Lonelier. Colder. Silent in a way that breathed him guilty. The stories that had been so exciting felt empty and Konnor began to think that perhaps the hollow, too, was for babies.

He turned his back on the ruins and tried to forget the way things used to be.

Then one day, as his feet walked him by, he heard mewling. At first he wondered if those were ghosts come to haunt him … but the insistent whines sounded too much like complaints brought forth by small, needy, hungry, living things.

He crawled in. His torch lit an area of newly fallen stones and a squirming mound of furry wobbly creatures.

It had been heedless to enter face first into a den. He would have been taught a painful lesson by the parent, had she not been crushed under one of the stones. It couldn’t have been long. Her motionless form was almost warm.

The pups mewled and one wriggled to nuzzle blindly against Konnor’s palm, seeking comfort. It was only when he picked them up into his shirt that he realized something.

“The stories we told may have been for babies,” he told Baldwin when he unveiled the brown head of a pup that had snuggled into the crook of his arm, “but the dungeons seemed to have produced some real younglings.”

“And this one,” he planted the helpless creature in Baldwin’s withered lap, “needs someone who understands. Da says her back must have been crushed. Her hind legs are paralyzed.”

Baldwin’s eyes grew round and as he reached to touch the pup, she licked his finger. “I’ll call her Dungeon,” he said gently and his voice held a hint of sparkle. “For the way it used to be.”

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto challenge

 

 

 

Eyes Of Time

Photo prompt: Sue Vincent

 

“Learn to listen,” He-Who-Runs-With-Crooked-Legs told him as they sat to whittle spears and arrows out of saplings.

The old man’s hands moved the sharp bone deftly over the yielding wood, smoothing any bumps that could confuse an arrow’s spirit and send it listening to things other than the direction intended by the hunter.

He-Whose-Smile-Fades-Fast had hands that didn’t listen. The bone slipped. The sticks broke. The tips burned instead of hardening.

“You are still young,” He-Who-Runs-With-Crooked-Legs nodded at the boy’s frustration, his own fingers flying like starlings in a sky dance. “Your patience needs many more moons to grow.”

“…And you face special challenges,” the older man added, and the unexpected compassion softened the lined face in a way that soothed the boy more than the salve where the fire had wounded him. “It is your path to struggle. It is your path to overcome and become One-Who-Knows.”

“Like you?” the boy asked, eyes gliding over his mentor’s legs — one long and lean and straight, one tight and oddly bent. It had taken him months to build the courage to speak to the Shaman, and months more to dare note what all saw but was taboo to mention. The deformity was part of the man’s magic. It lent him awe. It caught the curiosity of spirits so they crowded closer to examine him, bringing hardship but also allowing him to speak and sing and plead and wrangle with them on others’ behalf.

“Yes, like me,” He-Who-Runs-With-Crooked-Legs replied. “A path of pain becomes a path of wisdom. If you let it teach you. If you open your heart and listen to your mind, your eyes, your hands, your scars.”

The boy lowered his eyes. He’d seen the man unclothed and he knew the many scars that crisscrossed the Shaman’s torso and that they were part made in valor, part born of harm.

 

He-Whose-Smile-Fades-Fast still remembered the evening when the old man had tapped the flap to the family’s dwelling, and poked his staff in to let his parents know who’d come. It wasn’t his mother who’d let the guest in. It wasn’t even his brother, who’d since become a man. But his father who had gotten up to greet the healer. His father who’d vacated the best seat and who’d served the steaming pine tea in the whorl cup.

The boy had gone to hide behind his mother’s back while the men talked. He curled his webbed fingers under his thumbs. He stuck his tripping, stubby toes under his mother’s furs. The Shaman scared him, and he felt it in his stomach that it was him the words concerned. He felt it in his mother’s muscles, too, tensing as she listened to a future that she must have known was his, and to the losses that she had to know were coming.

Shamans did not hunt. Shamans did not marry. Shamans did not dangle babies on their knee. They fasted. They prayed. They endured. They traveled worlds of mist and danger to bring back people’s souls. They blessed weapons and fought the spirits of famine and war and ill. They were feared and respected but not often loved. It was not a life a mother would will.

That night had been his last in his mother’s arms. He’d been entrusted to the Shaman since. For days he’d ran in tears to his mother only to have her return him solemnly, her own eyes dripping, to the feathered tent.

“You are fortunate,” she whispered to him once when he clung fiercely and her own hands seemed reluctant to release him. “Some Shamans can be cruel in their training, but he is not. He was my uncle once, in the years before he turned a holy man. He had been raised in violence and he promised he would not impart it on you. Go, my son. He will be like a father and mother to you now.”

 

The moon was born a dozen times since, and his mother had been right. He-Who-Runs-With-Crooked-Legs was firm and exacting, but he did not whip or lash or wound him, not in body, not in mind. Underneath the distancing exterior, the healer was kind.

The boy bent his head to the stick, determined. Still his hands refused to do his bidding and the sharp bone bit deep into his flesh. He blinked and breathed and wept but let no sound escape.

“The sky has a story today,” the old man said quietly. “Use your pain to wipe your inner eye so you could hear what it tells.”

The boy pressed his lips together and looked up through a veil of tears to see the sky ablaze. Darkness hovered near.

“It will be dark soon,” he said, and the echoes of the throbbing in his hand reverberated in his chest with a desolation only matched by the loneliness he’d felt during the first nights without his mother’s tent. “A dark time.”

The Shaman nodded.

“Fires spat by sticks of thunder. Cunning mouths and thieving hands …” the boy’s eyes lingered on his deformed palm and in the small pool of blood that gathered it in he saw the life of his people dissolve like a reflection distorted by a sudden breeze.

“A dark time is coming,” the Shaman agreed, oddly pleased. “Not in my time. Not in yours. But it will come and our people will discover many needs. You have cleared your eye well, and you have listened. You are young but with patience and more moons, you will become a One-Whose-Eyes-See-Time.”

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto Challenge

 

 

 

Wait For The Light

Photo prompt: Dale Rogerson

 

“Can we go to the playground, Mama?”

The woman stroked the small forehead to compose herself and smiled into the over-bright eyes. “It is the middle of the night, Cara.”

“Can I see?”

The woman tucked the blankets under the child and lifted her. The bundle in her arms felt devastatingly like the infant Cara had been a handful of winters ago, and heartbreakingly almost as light again. She turned so her daughter faced the window.

“It’s dark,” the girl sighed. “I’m tired, Mama. Maybe I wait for the light?”

“Yes, Cara,” the mother whispered. “We wait for the light.”

 

 

 

For Rochelle’s Friday Fictioneers